Zappos Theater, Las Vegas
Sept. 23, 2022
Before Miranda Lambert ascended on a hydraulic lift to the slithering guitar of “Actin’ Up,” the current Academy of Country of Country Music Entertainer set the tone for her first Las Vegas residency. Playing key songs from Gram Parsons, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis and Linda Ronstadt, all progressives who broke ground and merged genres, the songwriter/performer set the stage for a 22-song whirlwind trip through a career that was staunchly country, yet boldly musical and strong female positive.
She brought that same daring to the Velvet Rodeo, with a Baz Luhrman-esque aesthetic that was intensely colorful, vintage in places and gleaming in others. Between the sparklers punctuating the staging, generous amounts of flames being shot in many directions and the career-spanning setlist, the young girl from Lindale, Texas, whose breakout was the throttling “Kerosene,” delivered a spectacle that thrilled the crowd with its intensity and sheer exuberance.
While Lambert’s money songs have been her heart wrenching ballads, her franchise is built on no-nonsense tempo that affirms a woman’s right to do just what the hell she pleases. In a room filled with women of all ages, Black couples, Latinas, a variety of LGBTQ fans and real cowboys, packs of friends sang along as if declaring their own personal truth(s). Whether the gently affirming fun of “Famous In A Small Town,” the plucky send-up “Only Prettier,” the surging send-down “Geraldene” or the freedom-embracing “If I Was A Cowboy,” Lambert took people for a romp through their less extreme emotional gears, as well as dropping them into their deeper feelings.
“The House That Built Me,” the Grammy-winning homage to how we grow up and become who we are, had a tenderness in Vegas that transcends her normal stage shows. In the room, her delivery had a more subtly reflective tone. Seventeen years of music, life and all that comes with it, the realizations of how those roots supported her colored the performance.
The piano-drenched soul-search of “Vice” created a morning after examination. More about self-acceptance and truth than regrets, it was a clear-eyed understanding of what life really is; torchy, almost cocktail vixen recognition, the 7-time Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year laid her claim to the Rat Pack ethos Vegas was built on.
In many ways, Lambert is the perfect storm for Vegas. While wildly committed to artistic integrity, she’s never shied away from sparkly things, audacity or a good time. Capable of the hushed sepia-toned story of carnival girl who settled down, “Carousel” silenced the crowd; she also savors the Mexican-tinged rhythms of “Tequila Does” that had them waltzing in the aisles and the video build-out of when-simpler-meant-more “Automatic.”
With signs alerting the attendees “standing was strongly encouraged,” the Velvet Rodeo was never intended as a high-brow sit-down affair.
Lambert kicked in her brazen early. The one, two punch of “Fastest Girl In Town” and “Kerosene” – second and third in the set — threw down a gauntlet for the guitars to twist and rise up, the drums to crash hard and the audience to dance madly. She repeated that velocity gushing move later in the set as a moody revamping of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” caved into a churlish “Mama’s Broken Heart,” then exploded into the hammering domestic violence reprisal “Gunpowder & Lead.”
At fever-pitch, she notched the music down a gear with the crowd-reveling “Drunk (& I Don’t Want To Go Home).” Maintaining the energy, “Drunk” mirrored the vibe of the sequin-dripping, fringe-adorned crowd. They lifted their drinks aloft and swerved from side-to-side in time.
With spirits high, “Little Red Wagon”’s raging punk energy took the crowd into overdrive, creating a final moment that took the fans even higher. More than a crescendo, it was a catharsis and a reconjuring of what Miranda, the fans and country music can be.
At a time when Vegas is reinventing its glitz, Lambert is walking the line between coming hard and coming classy. Embracing Ann Margaret’s “Viva Las Vegas” pluck, she surrendered none of what defines her; instead, taking all the Technicolor bells and whistles, flames and multi-tiered stages, she built a rhinestone fever dream for anyone who want to live out loud.